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Had a Good Time: Stories from American Postcards Hardcover – June 30, 2004


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

After years of collecting early 20th-century postcards, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Butler (A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain) takes 15 choice missives as inspiration for his latest volume of short stories—an ambitious writing exercise that even in his assured hands yields mixed results. The stories range in tone and substance, from the humor of "The Ironworkers' Hayride," in which a man lusts for a sassy suffragette despite her wooden leg ("her mouth is a sweet painted butterfly"), to the melancholy of "Carl and I," about a woman who pines for her consumptive husband ("I breathe myself into my husband's life"). A few stories amount to little more than vignettes or reveries: in "No Chord of Music," a woman takes her husband's car for an empowering ride, and in "Sunday," an immigrant at Coney Island feels blessed to be in America. Other postcards trigger more fully realized stories. "Hurshel said he had the bible up by heart and was fixing to go preaching," reads the card Butler takes as his cue for "Up by Heart," a funny tale that addresses questions of faith and fundamentalism. "My dear gallie... am hugging my saddle horse. Best thing I have found in S.D. to hug," wrote a woman named Abba, inspiring Butler's poignant "Christmas 1910," which evokes the loneliness of a young woman homesteading on the Great Plains. Though many stories are as slight as the postcards themselves, the collection as a whole adds up to a thoughtful commentary on America at the dawn of a new century: while some Americans were buoyed by their confidence in technology and progress, others, at the mercy of a disease-ridden, hardscrabble existence, could trust only in their faith in God.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

This varied collection and the unusual adventures of Americans facing the dawn of a new century won a few critics over. A man falls in love with a girl with a wooden leg; a woman pines away for her dying husband. Still another jumps off a hotel balcony. Most reviewers, however, expected more from Butler. The blame might be better placed on the postcards themselves. Only a few were suited for fully realized characters and conflicts. Others, unfortunately, only serve as a jumping off point for clichés and wearying talk of the Good Old Days—which, considering most of these old postcards led to death, must not have been so good, after all.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press; First Edition edition (June 30, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802117775
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802117779
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.9 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,221,645 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Bestbeast333 on August 27, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Butler continues to experiment with new ways of looking at the world, at the people who enhabit his world. He doesn't write simply to give us the same old same old. He is taking chances on behalf of his craft. AND he's still very much in control of his powers. HAD A GOOD TIME, though not a perfect book, is another attempt by the author to keep going, to keep surprising himself with possibilities, to give his readers something different. For that and much more he gets my respect. I recommend people read and enjoy this new book regardless of what I or anyone else in these little snippets say. In my book, Mr. Butler is a brave writer for continuing to write from where it counts, where it is still vibrant and exciting. Writing from his intellect and heart. It's a winning combination.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jon Linden VINE VOICE on February 19, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In Butler's new book, he has created a new type of epistolary technique. He uses a news story and a postcard to introduce each of his stories. The concept of the postcard is further refined by showing the significant difference between life as it is, and life as depicted on the postcard.

First and foremost, the book is about America. Many of the characters are immigrants, coming to America for the first time. Many are not. But all meet the trials and tribulations of American life. And they write a postcard to someone they know and/or love. Yet that postcard is not in the least an accurate depiction of their life at that point in time.

Butler deals with the physical, the spiritual and the concepts of life and death in a visceral manner. Some of his stories are about war. Others are about immigration. Still others are about the contrast between life and death. These are the same questions that haunt all of our minds. And through his stories, Butler gives us a perspective on all these things, in fact, a very American perspective.

Butler is at his very best in the short story genre. He won his Pulitzer Prize for a terrific book of short stories. This one is no exception. It is highly recommended for all lovers of experimental modern literature, and those who love the short story genre, as these are some of his best.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Peppy Jane on September 18, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Butler has been visited by a divine muse. How else can one explain his inspired idea of writing the stories behind the antique postcards he collects? "Carl and I" and "The Ironworkers Hayride" are quite possibly two of the finest short stories ever written. The author is a master of this format and his book is a must-read for aspiring writers and postcard collectors.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Gary Sprandel on October 10, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Before email, faxes, and even regular phones was the postcard. The "golden age" of postcards perhaps lasted from 1898 to 1912, and in one year alone (1907) the Post Office delivered over 600 million cards (and the population was only 80 million). It is for traces of this era that Robert Butler has scoured the antique malls and postcard shows, looking for remarkable messages to craft his stories around.

The stories work well because Butler is historically accurate and the voices behind the stories seem (usually) authentic. Some of the stories revolve around simple, but pivotal events. The most humorous is, "The Ironworker's Hayride" and I had the pleasure of hearing Robert Butler read this and the audience was roaring in laughter. The stories are sometimes about the historic events of the era, for example the real photograph postcards and stories from "Woody Wilson's little escape in Vera Cruz" or "Mother in the trenches" of World War I. And in "Twins", for an immigrant to the United States trachoma was a real concern and a traveler on the White Star Line certainly would have thought about the Titanic. Perhaps some of the voices edge toward stereotype (for example "Uncle Andrew), but most resonate as clear individuals.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By rm62 on April 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Butler has put together a wonderful collection of short stories based on postcards written near the beginning of the 20th century. Each story stands on its own, but together the collection is a balanced look at American life at that time from a number of different angles. As a previous reviewer said, some of the stories are more fully developed than others, but each one is a gem in my opinion. Definitely recommended.
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Format: Paperback
If you feel like reading only two short stories and aren't willing to invest any more time, start with the hilarious "The Ironworkers' Hayride" and follow it with the heartbreaking "Carl and I." I went from outright laughter to downright tears in the space of a few minutes.

Of course, if those are the only two stories you read in HAD A GOOD TIME, you'll miss the delightful "No Chord of Music," which could have been the story of my mother, whose first car ride in 1917 was equally exciting. You'd also deprive yourself of the engaging "Sunday," which somehow or other -- I don't see how Butler does it -- manages to make this series of short stories seem more like a novel.

No, this is not STRANGE MOUNTAIN. I like this one even better.
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